We hightailed it over to The-Garden of the Gods, where we escaped into a nirvana of reddish rock formations. I offered a quick question to my compadres: “How do you think Colorado got its name?” Beep. Time’s up. “I thought you’d get that one, Joe. It means red earth in Spanish”. He winced a little, then regained his composure. Naturally, we had to stop at the ubiquitous souvenir shop (an anathema to me), where I roamed the parking lot, looking for out-of-state license plates.
I actually ended up talking with a gentleman who was tending to his Colorado-plated Chevy Conversion van – a good double-dip reason to strike up a conversation. We talked vans and we talked Colorado. He and his wife had been a native resident for fifty years, so I finally asked him. “What do you like best about Colorado?’ His simple answer was, “The weather.” I could not have agreed more. I rejoined my friends, and we made one last stop in The Garden. I insisted that Joe take a picture of petite Elvira holding up the famous Balanced Rock – the standard mock pose for first-timers.
As we headed for our final attraction for the day, I was thanking the Rodriguez’s for inviting me to spend the day with them. I didn’t feel like a captive after all. As we approached the Air Force Academy in the Chevy Belchfire, I wisecracked, “Has the flight control tower cleared us for landing?” “Yeah, we’ll be touchin’ down any minute now”. Joe chimed in. We toured the History of the Air Force Museum, which I could say was well worth the free admission.
Seriously, it was very educational. Next, we visited the awe-inspiring chapel with its repetitive, stainless steel spires that were analogous to F-16 vertical stabilizers… the unmistakable campus cynosure. We ambled out to an elevated deck overlooking the central parade grounds, and, lo and behold, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Here came the new inductees into the Academy, running in cadence into the yard, and then filing off towards their respective dormitories. A couple of malingers had been singled out, and were having to perform some insipid marching maneuvers commanded by a heartless upperclassman. I looked down on all that freshman initiation, and I found myself vicariously experiencing what they were going through, some forty years after I had endured some of the same kind of hazing as a frosh at Texas Tech. Gosh, they all looked so young. Of course, my companions didn’t think so, they being twenty-five years my junior.
Our last stop was for an early dinner at Friday’s. During the decadently delicious meal of burgers and fries, Joe and I somehow got off on the subject of the different pronunciation of certain words. One case in point, according to the Rodriguez Rule of Phonetics, was the way we gringos anglicized the word Colorado. It should be Küla-rädõ,” he insisted, and added, “After all, it is a Spanish word.” “Yeah, maybe you’re right,” I said, “and I suppose Amarillo should be Ama-rio.”
Then I tried to recoup by pointing out that we Anglos do respect the proper Hispanic pronunciation of his hometown Bexar county (Be-har). And there was Ma-haya for Mexia. I kept trying to appease him. Well, the confrontation of Brown versus White finally got Elvira’s goat. She pushed herself away from the table, stood up, and exclaimed, “I don’t know about you two, but I’m gettin’ my black ass outta here.” Joe and I just looked at each other in complete awe, and then broke out in spontaneous laughter. It was one of those “you had to be there to appreciate it” moments. I was still guffawing out in the parking lot, when I approached Elvira and said, “That was one of the most beautiful lines I’ve ever heard. You really cracked me up.” As I expected, she conceded it was all in jest. What a fun way to end the day.
The next morning, we met at Denny’s for our farewell Grand Slam breakfast. We were cordially escorted to an integrated black, white, and brown seating area. There was a lull in the conversation, as interest in the morning newspaper overshadowed any idle talk that was to come up. I could sense it was about time for us to part company…they were ready to hit the road back to Big D.
I could sympathize with them, having endured a week and a half of saturated sightseeing, a portion of which was provided by the “Early Tour Guide Services” – free of charge. The least I could do was spring for the $1.99 morning special, a trade-off for their taxi services. As we were about to say our good-byes in the parking lot, I couldn’t help but express a few intimate thoughts, as I said, “I don’t know about you two, but this has been the most unique vacation time I’ve ever had.” Trying not to sound ceremonial, I continued, “It was a real joy being a part of your first visit to Colorado, and at the same time, being able to revisit this beautiful, scenic area. It’s been too long.”
Actually, I don’t think my final words were that staid and schmaltzy…probably more like, “It was a real cool time, dude. Thanks for sharing.” Anyway you put it, it was one special time with two special people. I’ll never forget it.
The rest of my trip was spent visiting the Farris’s and Rosso’s in Bailey, and friends in Denver; and finally vanishing into the Rockies thin air for a week of seclusion beside babbling brooks and cascading creeks. Gee-mo-nee, sounds like a promo for a state travel brochure. Well, that’s it folks. Adios, amigos.
William C. Early © 1995